Handling Hardships (or Grace for the Journey)

I was complaining to God recently about the difficulties of life (please tell me that I’m not the only one who does that!). All I wanted was a little relief. Some time – a few days of peace when I didn’t have to think about problems and stress.

You would think God would be OK with that. But it didn’t happen.

On the same day of my complaint, (not before and not later!) I was reading in the book of 2 Timothy and came to verse 3. It says, You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

That’s where I stopped reading. No point in going any further. The answer was right in front of me in black and white.

Not if you want to, but you must!

There’s no ambiguity about it. Hardships will come in the Christian life and you must endure them; tolerate them; stomach them; put up with them.

Just to make his point clear, the Apostle followed that statement up with illustrations of three people who have to put up with hardships. The soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. All of them face hardships by virtue of the occupation they have chosen, and they must endure them to be successful.

I’m sure that anyone who goes into one of those three lines of work knows that their life will involve hardships, but I doubt that any of them understood the extent of the hardships they would face.

The same is true of the Christian. When you became a Christian you automatically were placed in a position similar to that of the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. A place of hardship.

You may have had some vague idea that the Christian life would make your life harder in some way, but, like the soldier, athlete or farmer, you probably didn’t understand the extent of the hardships you would face.

And then you found out!

And the encouragement you got as you searched the Word of God for answers is that sometimes you simply have to endure.

Endure the pain. Endure the suffering. Endure the hardships.

There’s not much comfort in that. But there is comfort in the knowledge that you can handle the greatest hardships in life by the grace of God.

That was the lesson the same Apostle who wrote 2 Timothy 2:3 learned and recorded for us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 as he dealt with his own hardship. As he asked God to remove his trial, the divine response was My grace is sufficient for you. All Paul needed to handle his hardship was the grace of God.

And that’s all any of us need.

We need God’s grace.

Thankfully, God has made sure that in the person of Jesus we received His grace. Another Apostle, this time John, wrote, and of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. The emphasis is on the abundance of grace that we received in the person of Jesus. We have all of the grace we need.

All of the grace to face the hardships that will come. All of the grace to make it through difficult times. All of the grace to handle the stress of life.

Grace piled on top of grace.

So, I had to stop and ask God to give me grace instead of praying for a way of escape.

The good news is that there is Grace for the Journey.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Where Will We Go From Here?

It’s a question many people in many parts of the world are asking. I try to stay current with events in several countries around the world because 1) I have friends there and 2) God as allowed me the opportunity to minister in those countries. Once you’ve been to another country and personally know people you seem to take more interest in the things that affect their lives. For me those countries are Haiti and the Philippines. Both countries are in the process of elections just like we are in the U.S. – although we are at the beginning of the process (even if it feels like we’ve been stuck in the election cycle forever!).

One of the interesting things that I’m seeing is that elections today, no matter where they take place around the world, are about change. I know you hear that in every election – at least from those who have been out of power. But this time it seems like it’s more than a political slogan. People are genuinely looking for something to change. And increasingly they are looking to the political arena.

A friend in Haiti (Haiti just had the second of three rounds of elections yesterday) recently lamented on Facebook that no matter who was elected to the highest offices in Haiti, nothing significant ever changed.

He’s not wrong. I’ve traveled to Haiti almost yearly for the past 25 years and much of what I observe is the same as it was on my first trip. There are cosmetic changes – more cell phones and motorbikes, but few substantial changes that affect people’s lives.

That brings me to the question: How should we as Christians view change? Especially changes that impact the moral direction of our countries? Should we put our hope in the political process? Should we advocate for change? Or should we just give up on change?

Here are some thoughts related to the Christian and change.

1. We don’t need to be pessimists, nor realists – we need to be Biblicists. Pessimists are tempted to give up when things don’t change for the better. Realists can be wrong in their analysis of what needs to be changed. Biblicists look at what the Bible says about change and work within that context to bring about the maximum change.

2. We need to understand that it’s not an either/or but a both/and situation. In other words it’s not either things change for the better or they don’t, it’s some things change for the better while some things change for the worse – both scenarios are true. It seems to me that the picture the Bible presents is that as we go through history, or what the Bible calls “the last days”, things change on the macro level for the worse (2 Timothy 3:1f, esp. vs. 13) but it holds out the hope that things can change on the micro or individual level for the better (2 Corinthians 5:17).

3. We need to recognize that ultimately the needed change can only come through Jesus Christ. It is only as individual lives are changed by the power of God that true, lasting change takes place. Yes, politicians can make changes that affect and potentially improve our lives. But those changes are at best temporary and lack eternal value. Only internal, spiritual, change really matters in the long run.

4. Having said that (#2 & 3) the paradox in the Christian life is that while the world continues to spiral in a downward direction we have been called to affect change in every aspect of life. That’s the battle against sin. Sin affected every part of creation (Romans 8:18f) so our battle includes doing all we can to change poverty, sickness, natural disasters, injustice, hatred, violence, environmental destruction (after all it belongs to God) AND hearts.

Where will we go from here? The answer is simple: to the Kingdom. While the world spirals in a downward direction we are marching in an upward direction toward the culmination of the Kingdom. And we will take every opportunity to make every positive, godly change along the way. Not waiting for change to be sent down from Washington, Manila or Port-au-Prince. But stepping out boldly with grace to affect change in our own world for the world yet to come.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Moment that Changed My Life

My journey to Israel was everything I expected – and more. I cannot begin to describe the impact that this single trip has had on me. Feel badly for my wife who will have to listen to me drone on and on for who knows how many days as I try to relive my experience.

People have already begun to ask me to share my most memorable experience (thinking perhaps that if they limit me to the most memorable, they won’t have to listen so long!). When you are in a place like Israel with so many sites that hold historical, biblical and spiritual meaning, it is hard to narrow it down to just one. I imagine everyone has those “aha” moments. Places that jog your memory to something you heard as a child in Sunday School and now you are literally standing in that place. Moments when something unexpected triggers your emotions and you feel unexpected joy – or tears.

I will never forget the rush of emotions as our bus climbed the hills on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. The sun was sinking in the western sky and as we neared the summit of the hill. Without a word our driver slowed the bus to almost a crawl, as the words of the song came softly over the sound system

Last night I lay a-sleeping
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing,
And ever as they sang,
I thought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang.

And as the words of the climactic chorus rang in our ears, there across the valley we had our first glimpse of the city of Zion.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

Talk about chills up and down your spine! Many in our group listed that moment as the one that will forever stand out in their memory.

As moving as that experience was, the moment that will forever change my life came the next day as we visited the Western Wall. Leaving our group I made my way down through the throngs of Orthodox Jewish men who had gathered before the wall surrounding the Temple Mount. I wanted to be among them. I wanted to stand before this wall. I wanted to touch it. So standing shoulder to shoulder with them as they prayed I placed my hand on this ancient wall. The wall that Jesus would have known.

I’m not sure why it became important to me. I’m not sure what I expected. But I do know what happened to me in that moment. In that moment I realized that I was standing in a place, not of spiritual light, but of spiritual darkness. All around me were hundreds, perhaps thousands of extremely religious people. People crying out to their god. But people who did not understand that their Messiah had already come. And in that moment I understood better than I ever had before why the Apostle Paul wrote, I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh (Romans 9:2-3). And why Jesus, as He looked over the city of Jerusalem cried out, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37). And in that moment I prayed that God would open their eyes to the truth of who Jesus is; their Messiah and Lord. Never have I been moved to pray for the Jewish people as I was standing before that magnificent wall. That was the moment in my journey that will forever be imprinted on my mind. It was the moment that defined my pilgrimage to Zion.

Thank you to my special friend who made this possible.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve